SimplyMepis is a Debian-based distro developed by Warren Woodford who believed that Mandrake Linux was too hard for new users. (Mandrake, now Mandriva, was the Ubuntu of its time). I’ve heard him interviewed a few times on The Linux Link Tech Show and he seems to be of the realist (as opposed to idealist) school of Linux distro maintainers. He believes users should be able to listen to MP3s, use Adobe Flash, and so on. SimplyMepis 8.0 is based on Debian 5 stable, which I recently reviewed. So let’s load her up into VirtualBox and see how it goes.
Based on previous experiences, I chose to load the SimplyMepis Failsafe version off the LXF DVD. The usual kernel messages went by as my hard drive and other components were discovered. This took quite a long time, but I am running it in a virtual machine. Eventually, the KDM screen loaded up.
So I log in to the live CD. In case it was running from the DVD drive in addition to running in the VM that was slowing everything up so much, I decided to install right away. Except, I didn’t have the installation icon on my desktop. So I went command line and found it. The command to run is minstall. Didn’t work. So I su’d to root and got it to launch. Then it complained about not being able to connect to the X server. Maybe failsafe was not the way to go? I reset the virtual machine. That didn’t change anything – the installation is still not on the desktop and I get an error each time. Not very polished. Although, it could be a VM issue. I still couldn’t do it – even trying kdesu. So I rebooted the VM and this time I plan to login as root. NOW it had the installation icon on the desktop. This was very promising because it took me over 2 hours to get this far. It froze. So I thought perhaps there’s a problem with the LXF DVD or maybe it’ll work better if the CD ISO is on my computer. So I went on to the Mepis website and got the CD ISO for SimplyMepis.
Booting up was just as slow as usual. This was very, very annoying. I have run all the distros I’ve reviewed in VMs and they are usually a lost faster than this. Alright, it still didn’t work. I”m really fed up with this so I try to just try it as a liveCD in my computer – no VM. This runs a helluva lot faster. So, folks we’ll have to have a LiveCD (from the LXF DVD) review here.
The menu is a little annoying. It takes 4 levels to OpenOffice.org Writer. K Menu->Applications->Browse All->Applications->Office->OpenOffice.org Writer. Let me rephrase that, very, very annoying. Wait a minute, you can also access it via K Menu->Office->OpenOffice.org. The menu needs a bit more polish, it seems. The default Desktop Environment is KDE. All the configuration appears to be through the standard KDE Control Center. Gimp appears not to be available by default, at least not on the liveCD. Unlike most of the other distros (and even many of the lightweight distros) there are not any bit torrent programs installed by default. Kmail is available for email, Firefox and Konqueror for web browsing, Kopete for chat, and Akregator for RSS feed reader. One really good thing they’ve done with the menu is to have the programs listed as function (program). For example, “web browser (Firefox)”. This way, a new user doesn’t have to guess what Akregator is. In the multimedia front are Amarok for music, KMplayer for videos, and k3B for burning discs. The default font for firefox is attrocious and hard on the eyes.
On the plus side, there is a User’s Manual on the desktop which appears to be very good at explaining what SimplyMepis is al about.
I’m sorry this review had to be such a shallow review. I was really looking forward to attempting to install SimplyMepis and see how the installation differed from Debian, Ubuntu, Linux Mint, and other Debian-based distros. But it refused to work with Virtual Box. On the surface SimplyMepis appeared to basically fall just short of a lot of other full distros. It seemed to have less programs – at least it had less programs on the liveCD. It also left a less favorable impression on me than Antix, which is based on Mepis! I felt the distro lacked just that little bit of spit and polish that Fedora, Mandriva, Debian and Ubuntu have. From the slightly schitzophrenic menus to the horrible font in FIrefox that made me go right back to my other computer after capturing that desktop screenshot. I’ve heard some pretty good stuff about Mepis in the past, so I think this is probably just a fluke. Perhaps SimplyMepis 8.x or 9.0 will return to that level. After all, even my chosen distro of Fedora seems to falter every other release. Right now I just can’t recommend it over Linux Mint, Ubuntu, or Mandriva for the new user. Next time it’s on an LXF disc I’ll give it another swing.